Over 100 people witnessed the unveiling of the marker recognizing Private First-Class Booker T. Spicely.


New state historical marker at NCSSM-Durham commemorates slain civil rights protestor

The North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics-Durham hosted the unveiling and dedication of a North Carolina State Highway Historical Marker in honor of Private First-Class Booker T. Spicely on Dec. 1.

Spicely, a Black volunteer in the United States Army, was in uniform and unarmed aboard a local Durham bus on July 8, 1944, when he protested the Jim Crow laws that had forced him to the very back seat. When he stepped off the bus, the bus driver followed him, pulled a gun, and shot Spicely twice. Critically wounded just three blocks from Watts Hospital (which closed in 1976 and later became the home of NCSSM-Durham in 1980), Spicely was denied care by the segregated hospital and subsequently pronounced dead at Duke Hospital. The driver was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, but was later acquitted by an all-White jury after only 28 minutes of deliberation.

The historical marker, which now stands at the edge of the NCSSM-Durham campus at the corner of W. Club Blvd. and Broad St., is the first in North Carolina to include the term “Jim Crow.”

D. Reid Wilson, Secretary of the NC Dept. of Natural and Cultural Resources which erected the marker, was on hand for the unveiling along with members of the Spicely family, the Booker Spicely Committee, and members of the NCSSM community.

“A lot of North Carolinians are not aware of the history of Private Spicely, which underscores why it’s so important to commemorate the events and people who have made history and shaped our state,” he said.  “This marker will help us to remember his stand against segregation, for which he gave his life. This is a bittersweet moment – we honor and remember the courage of Private Spicely, but we also recoil at the inhumanity of his brutal and unjust killing.”

D. Reid Wilson, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, was one of several individuals to speak at the marker’s unveiling.

After the unveiling of the marker, attendees walked onto the NCSSM-Durham campus where they attended a dedication ceremony and reception that provided more context for Pvt. Spicely’s life and the era in which he lived and died.

Jamie Lathan, NCSSM’s Vice Chancellor for Extended Learning, a historian, and a teacher at the school, spoke of the importance of first acknowledging history before it can be useful to others.

“To learn from [Private Spicely’s death], we must recall, call out, and examine this constellation of active and passive racist actions,” he said. “We remember his act of protest against racial injustice, which deserves to be more widely known and to be taught as part of a painful and shameful and instructive chapter of our shared history.”

More than 20 members of Spicely’s family were on hand for the ceremony.

Meredith Murphy, a humanities instructor at NCSSM-Durham and the school’s chair of humanities, pledged to continue telling Spicely’s story. “The historical marker that now stands at the corner of W. Club Boulevard and Broad Street has the power to elicit curiosity about Private Spicely, and my NCSSM colleagues and I pledge to continue sharing this story: answering our students’ and visitors’ questions, and revealing the many layers that lie beyond the marker’s text.”

Because, as Cynthia Mitchell, a Spicely cousin who spoke on behalf of the family, said: “Knowledge without action is dead.”